Schneider: Matt and others sort of saw that you can actually do a startup and make it be almost more like an open source project, just like all about the product and the people and not sort of... the pretend part of trying to be a business. That was a lot of it. So I was at Yahoo!, and at some point, Matt decided that he sort of felt ready to start a company. He approached me and said I'd love to do this. I don't know anything about running a company, do you want to be CEO? And the timing was great because I had sort of done my job at Yahoo! helping them integrate OddPost and doing a few other projects. And then also another friend of mine, Phil Black, was starting a venture capital firm at the time. And that became True Ventures. And he asked me if I'd like to join True, as a partner to help start it. And so I said yes to both Phil and Matt. I've had these two jobs, really, for all this time. It's been about 90% Automattic with 10% True Ventures.#

Interviewer: So were you a developer at OddPost?#

Schneider: I was the CEO at OddPost. I was still developing some software at the time, but not very much. I used to be a software developer a long time ago.#

Interviewer: Okay, okay.#

Schneider: I became a business guy.#

Interviewer: And do you enjoy the business side of things more? Or do you ever miss development?#

Schneider: I miss it. I like working on the product. Still. But, I found that I really enjoy the telling the story part and building the business and sort of taking some technology that might be really, really cool and promising a really bringing it to a much larger audience. And getting investors, and partners, and customers excited about it. And sort of translating an idea. WordPress to me was a great example of where, when I first saw it, it was a very impressive product to me at the time, even though it was very simple. Maybe because it was very simple. But it had sort of the core elements of just what I think have made it very successful even very early on. I just saw a ton of potential there. To me it seemed very obvious that this was going to do really, really well in those... in just a year old. And sort of that... helping take something like that and making it today, where it's obviously a lot bigger, is really fun. And I found that I've been more successful doing that than writing software. I was a decent software developer, but I was always itching to be more external and talk about it than sit there and write the software.#

Interviewer: Who was the story [3:00] you wanted tell about WordPress, like whenever you first kind of learned about it?#

Schneider: It's actually what Matt alluded to in this talk he just gave about, when he said that... he sort of called for people to join and help. It was around, if you... I forget the way he said it, but you know, but if you're ever upset with the social networks and the way behave and all these centralized, proprietary services, here's your opportunity to be part of something that is different. And it's open. And it's distributed. And it's really more owned by the people who use it approach and that's really what I saw early, WordPress I thought could have a much broader impact. And I feel like the part that's... I've loved about being part of with WordPress is just seeing more and more people use it, sort of embrace it as a tool. As something that they can take and make their own. And do something with. Rather than just oh, I've joined this service and I'm just one little cog in this big machine that's like Twitter or Facebook or something else. With WordPress you have more ownership, you have more control, you have more... just an ability to do your own thing and be creative. And that's what I saw when I first used the software.#


Schneider: Even that early WordPress, the ability to actually install it simply and get it to work. I think that 5-minute install was absolutely brilliant. More actually a marketing move... it was almost a technical achievement. I think it was huge. And just having that experience that since then millions of people had, where you can actually install a piece of software that's fairly complicated... like something you didn't actually think you could get to work on a server. And most people don't even understand what like web hosting is and how all that works, but somehow you installed WordPress and you ran it and it like set up a database and something really complicated happened and it worked. And you did it. I think that moment is really powerful. It's that sort of when non-developers... and developers have that experience all the time when you write software and then you run it and it works [6:00] and it's amazing. Having that experience at a much broader scale, where any blogger could actually run their own... setup and run their own software, is, I just thought, that's something really powerful that's going to resonate with a lot of people. So that was... and I think that's been true. It's also, you know Matt earlier said about the investment you make into something, makes you appreciate it so much more. I find that... I had an intuition that that was going work for a lot of people with WordPress. And it has. It just... I'm sure you hear this all the time too when you talk to people who use WordPress... they're just so proud they got it to work. And they found plugins and they've built something with it and their... the perception they have of WordPress, the sort of brand perception, is completely different than something where you just signup like a Gmail or a Facebook and you just sign up. I mean it's great and it works and it's kind of amazing, but it's not yours in any way.#

Interviewer: Do you think kind of compromises on that sense of ownership at all?#

Schneider: Probably in some ways. I think it still... it's funny because there's a tension between yeah we made it too simple and we don't allow plugins and that whole experience and then the ... all the people who sign up and find it too hard to use and they have to learn too much and really mess too much to kind of get good at it. And there's always these conflicting ideas and forces of some people who want to make it simpler and make it more like a Gmail where anybody can sign up and use it. And people want to make more like and allow plugins and do things. We've sort of tried to find a middle ground where, you know, clearly not everybody is going to go to a web host and set up WordPress. It's just intimidating even though it's, you know... I actually think anybody can do it if you put your mind to it, but for a lot of people it's just no way.#

Interviewer: It's just the idea of it.#

Schneider: There's just no way. There's too many steps involved and a lot of people are just not that into technology. They're just like... so the idea of is you just broaden it out to the people who just want to fill out a form and get started. But you still leave a lot of the power of WordPress in there. Obviously it's very popular and a lot of people use it. And then what we've done, is to say well, if you get to a point with where you feel like ah, this is not letting me do enough then you move to Then you should already. And we help you. If you really want that total control kind of experience. Total ownership. [9:00] We always have made that easy as possible. We tell everybody about it. We tell people we don't care if you leave and go to You're still using WordPress and that's what we care about the most. And that's probably one of the things that has been the most counter-intuitive when business people look at our... at Automattic. They go "Why would you ever let people go and leave your platform?" Like once you've signed them up with you do everything in your power to keep them on there. And we don't. And it's been just fine. And it's one of the things that is counter-intuitive about our business.#

Interviewer: What do people say about that?#

Schneider: They're confused by it. They think that if we did it differently, the more traditional way, that we'd be much bigger. And I disagree. And now that we're very, very big as a business, we have a lot of revenues, we have a lot of users, we sort of point to that and say "Well, you think the other way would have been better? Worse?" I don't know. Who knows. But I'm pretty convinced that our model is actually better. We see more companies now do similar things, where they sort of shared hybrid, open source and hosted, kind of model and they're all very successful too. I actually think we'll see more of it and people are more accepting. It's the same with our distributed nature. Like, the first five years, all everybody would want to talk about is so when is it going to break. Just wait. You'll get to 30 people and this won't work anymore. Oh, you'll get to 60 people... just wait until you get to 80 people, there's no way this is going to work. We're 200 people and it's working better than ever. And there's just something about the traditional... if you have a traditional business background, an MBA, or if you just sort of learned that way of building and running a business, you look at Automattic and just go... this is weird. This shouldn't work. This is not the way we were taught to build companies in the sort of more top-down traditional way. And it's moved from that to sort of kind of predicting its failure, to kind of hmmm, this could be interesting, to now I think actually people are looking at it as more of a case study going hmmm, maybe there's something here that we can use in our business. So it's actually... most of the time now when I get asked to like speak somewhere or give an interview, it's not about WordPress or about our business, it's about the distributed nature of our team. And there are books being written about it. And everybody's trying to figure out, like is this the new way of work. And for us it's always been normal because it's just the way an open source project worked. Just turn it into a business organization. So we've sort of.. I think we've... I think there's a lot more people now who actually are really interested in it and figuring out [12:00] like oh, how could this work for somebody else.#

Interviewer: So why in the kind of in the face of all this negativity did you think that the model that you adopted was better?#

Schneider: Because we just saw it working for us. My goal wasn't to prove anybody wrong or to prove that this was a better way of building a business. It just worked for us, it makes total sense to us. We see advantages that we sort of thought in the very beginning when Matt and I sat down and said look, what kind of company do we want to build. Some of the things we put in place, we thought were going to work, just started working really well. Some of the very active release cycle we have, like the constant multiple releases a day kind of model and sticking to that as we got bigger and really investing a lot into an infrastructure that allows our team to do that. Or the idea that we never, we always want the people who work on the product and build the product, the coders and the designers, to have direct connection to the customer. And be able to release product into the world. We don't want to set up what companies typically do, this kind of waterfall release structure where okay you write the code and then you test the code and the UI people go at it and then the marketing people go at it and... it's with the best intentions that companies do that to try and control this bigger process, but we said from the beginning we're not going to do that. We're just going to set it up so everybody can release code directly to the world, because it's fun that way! That's what product people want to do. And the same with the distributed thing, we said, we're recruiting out of the open source project, we don't want to ask people to move to The Bay Area, let's just make it work and see how it goes. And it just worked for us, almost from day one. We had to tweak it and get better at it, it was never a thought that we should switch to a different model. We're just, eh, this is great for us, maybe it will work for somebody else. Also, I think... I wanted to build the kind of company that doesn't pay that much attention to what everybody else is doing in the rest of the world. It's just about us getting better. And doing the best we can do. And then good things will happen. Like we don't have to focus that much on competition, and other ways of doing things, and all these distractions that are always around us, let's just pick something we all really like, and we think is going to have a big impact in the world and then you just work away at it and get better at it over time and I... and when it starts working it's fine, there's not that much doubt or... and we were pretty good at not getting distracted. A lot of our competitors kind of fell by the wayside because they chased off after "let's be an ad network now," [15:00] "let's be a social network now," "let's try and compete with Twitter," let's try and... you know. People are always... if you're too externally focused, you fall into that trap because you see the rest of Silicon Valley getting excited about an idea and it's really hard to say no, especially when you feel "Oh my god! We have something that's almost like that! If we just turned it into a photo sharing thing..." Because that's what everyone's excited about. And it hardly ever works. So we just kind of stuck to our guns through all the years of people like.. "Blogging is dead. The web is dead." All those things. And we're like "Oh, okay. If you think so." But that's not what we see within our user base.#

Interviewer: So has it led to any, like the distributed nature, has that led to any sort of challenges that you've really had to think about and fix?#

Schneider: Lot's of them. I just taught a class about this actually. I sort of broke it down into the lifecycle of an employee. Everywhere from how does somebody learn about us, how do we recruit them and interview them, how do we onboard them, what's it like to work inside the company. And sort of each one of those steps we had to sort of look at how's it done traditionally, what do we disagree with in the traditional approach that we could fix or do differently, and then what do we have to do differently just because we're distributed. So something like just the interviewing, for example, people write us how do you go out and sort of let the world know, first of all, that we are hiring anywhere in the world. So the telling our story that way and showing sort of our international nature and what it's like to be here makes our recruiting pitch very different. Letting people... we had to learn that, you really have to very early on explain to people what it's like to work in a distributed environment because a lot of people when a few people that just weren't happy within Automattic early on, it was just because people had the wrong experience. They didn't know what it was going to be like. And they would come in and a couple of months in they would be like "Wow, this distributed thing is really not for me. It's weird. I'm sitting at home, and I don't know what I'm supposed to be working on." Some people got... it just was not for them. So we had to really get much better at communicating up front, what it's going to be like. Doing the trial projects I think was a huge breakthrough for us. Just sort of this trial period to see if this is going to work. Interviewing people over Skype and in text, because that's mostly how we're going to communicate, was a big change. It seemed very odd at first, because that's not how it's done. [18:00] You meet in person, you know. Everything around the meetups and getting people together we had to kind of figure out and learn and tweak along the way. We just found that the biggest downside to the distributed model is people get lonely. So you need in-person time. So we're doing a lot of these kinds of events. And WordCamps have helped. They're sort of magnets for people to come together. The meetups, we do the team meetups, the company meetups. We send a ton of time, and a lot of thought in making those really effective, just as a way for people to get to know each other and spend time. What you work on and... like our meetups are very different than your traditional corporate retreats and all those things where it's all about "strategy session" and "roadmaps" and all of that kind of stuff. We do none of that. It's all about people connecting and actually learning, "oh, here's the... this is the person behind Gravatar." And then all the stuff we built around p2 and now o2. Which actually, I think, if we ever put it out as a product could really help a ton of other companies and how they communicate. We had to sort of figure that out, trial and error, over the years. It took us a while to find the right combination of tools and... But I feel like we're sort of... we're still iterating it, but there's several pieces in place now that feel really good. That we've been doing for a few years now that are great. I do think it's at a stage now where we could sort of write it down and hand it to another company and they could do it as well. We'll see if that happens.#

Interviewer: So how's it changed from... I guess the early days it was just a few of you.#

Schneider: Yeah, it was... so when I started, there were five of us. Donncha was the first, and then Matt, and then Andy Skelton and Ryan Boren - I don't know if you've talked to those guys - so that was, it was those four guys when I started. And then we got to about 8 or 10 people and sort of stayed there for a while. That was sort of the good... that's a good team size. That's sort of what our teams look like now that we have... we just got a lot done. It was... so all of the developers, it was Matt Thomas, one designer, Mark Riley, one support guy, me, one business guy, and then a bunch of developers. [21:00] We started... to me it feels like a very constant growth and just, we, like any business, there's always 10 things you want to do and you can only do one or two, so there's always the question of what do we focus on. But it was always getting out there, making it better. From day one we devoted a large amount of resources to We've had over the years, we've never added it up, but I'm sure we spend ten or twenty million dollars worth of just, people, over the years to just help For a long time in the beginning we did all the development on that as well. I remember like the first plugin directory, the first theme directory, all those kinds of things. We would just say, you know what?, this is good for WordPress, it's good for the community. It's not something we want to own as a business and let's just build it and give it away to the community and sort of put it out there. So there's always been a big focus on spending at least, it probably ends up being about 20% of everything we do at Automattic, is purely focused on And I'm sure you've met the whole .org team and it's... they do whatever's best for There's no corporate... like you have to make this stuff work for .com or something. As we've just added more people and made more money, hired more people, we've just tried to always put them on good projects that help both WordPress overall and help us grow our business. It probably took a few years ... like the first few years, I don't think people were ever like upset about Automattic, but there were some suspicions at first. Are you going to take over? Are you going to screw it up? Is it still going to be a real open source project? I would say after a few years of us just doing the right thing, like putting on WordCamps, and not commercializing it, and trying to turn it into a business-y thing. Every little move like that. And then starting the foundation, and giving the trademark to the foundation. It just, over time, the trust has grown to a point where I feel like there's a... the community as a whole, I think, trusts that Automattic does the right thing and has not just it's own revenue goals in mind but really the whole ecosystem and the whole platform. [24:00] We've sent hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business to other people in the WordPress ecosystem. If you do that consistently over the years, people start to trust you that this is a real platform I can build something. I can build a business here and I'm not going to get crushed by the Automattic guys. They're not going to just change the rules overnight. That takes awhile. Now that we have it, I think it's super valuable.#

Interviewer: So were you involved with open source before Automattic?#

Schneider: No.#

Interviewer: Did you know much about it?#

Schneider: Yeah, I knew I knew all about it, I just had never been involved in a project.#

Interviewer: We're you excited about it? Or was that like a secondary thing to the actual product and the business?#

Schneider: It's a good question. It wasn't like "the reason" why I wanted to. It wasn't my goal to build a business with an open source component, but it sort of just felt right from the beginning. And we had done things at Outpost that leveraged open source. We contributed a little bit. So I'd been exposed to the power of it. At Outpost in particular, after a while, our email service got big enough, we had a spam problem. We amusingly enough, for like the first year or two, we just didn't even have a spam filter or anything. People just dealt with it. So there came the point where we had to figure out how to deal with spam. That was about the time Paul Graham wrote his paper about Bayesian spam filters, I don't know if this means anything to you, but I thought it was the coolest idea ever. It was this idea that in the past, people would try and sort of look at where did the email come from. They were trying to figure out, oh are you a good or a bad guy sending the email. And Paul Graham's idea was that you can... if something's spam, if you look at it, you can tell it's spam. How can you tell? Well, it's the message in it. Like they're trying to spam you with words, really, and if you look at all the spam together and sort of look at all the words people use and kind of just what a spammy message sounds like, if a new message comes in and it kind of sounds the same as one of those, then it's probably spam. Works incredibly well. And he open sourced that idea and then a bunch of people implemented it and put it out as open source projects and we used one of them and modified it and it worked really well for us. It just showed us, showed me, that this is a really powerful model. And it's a good... it sort of has that same kind of elements of... [27:00] I think people like working on that because it's just a good thing to work against spam. Like, it's kind of fun, right? So I kind of got a taste of it. But yeah, it just seemed like a totally natural thing. Like I never felt like there's going to be a conflict between our business interests and open source interests. I think, to me they go... it all goes hand-in-hand.#

Interviewer: Did you think much about that at the beginning, about how you were going to manage that relationship between the projects?#

Schneider: Yeah, I think the big breakthrough for us was to just say the software will be open source, and the hosted service will be proprietary. It has to be. You can't run... you need servers. Someone has to pay the bills, somebody has to run the software. You need a company for that. So there was... it just felt very natural that... and it's really the emergence of hosted web applications that sort of coincided with the rise of WordPress that allow us to do this. I think that... because we were able to do that, I think we never had a problem. There's a lot of suggestions along the way, like you should do an enterprise version of WordPress for companies to download or you should have like the paid version and the free version, all that kind of stuff. And we just completely ignored it from day one, because if anything, I didn't want to be in that business. Selling enterprise software is just the most... I don't understand it. I just don't get why anybody would want to sell software that way, so I was never tempted to even try. And we were so busy building it just was like, this is plenty big enough business for us to build. Let's keep the software free forever.#

Interviewer: Can you tell me about any problems that arose while you were doing... along the way in navigating this relationship?#

Schneider: Between open source and business?#

Interviewer: Yes.#

Schneider: So there definitely, early on, a few people who were convinced that we were up to no good. And most of them went after Matt personally, and some of them after Automattic were the combination of the two. So Matt's had to shoulder most of that criticism and negativity over the years. There's never been a ton, but there's some of that in every community, in every open source project. There definitely... some challenges early on but we would do something or not do something and people would just read into it or... we really made a point early on of over communicating and explaining and making sure and not get... [30:00] there's a natural reaction to get angry about it, and just try to and not get angry about it. And just say look, so somebody thinks this, and we're going to explain it and move on. We also didn't want to get into a huge back and forth. But there's definitely a few thorns in our side kinds of people, who just, every step they just read something...#

Interviewer: And these people in the community, in the WordPress community?#

Schneider: Yeah, it was never, I would never say like core community. It was never... as far I can remember, there was never anybody... the people who were really actively contributing, I can't think of anybody who ever got upset with Automattic, or there was any real tension or friction. It was more people on the periphery. And some who were anonymous, which is heckling. So that was a challenge early on. And I think we overcame that and managed it. And there've been a few, what I would say, flare ups over the years. I guess the most recent one was around the whole GPL licensing themes. Which, there's always a component there of... it usually something where Matt decides, this is really for the best of the community and the long-term of the community, you should do it this way, and then a few people disagree. There's a combination of people sort of disagreeing with Matt on the open source project and then also disagreeing with Automattic's role in it or thinking that there's some kind of... like we're doing this because we want to dominate that business or own it... or there's some people ascribe some kind of commercial motive to it and I don't think that's ... it's never been the case. It wasn't like we're a premium theme shop and now we're trying to like mess it up for everybody else. This is like something we don't even do as a business. We're just trying to make it work for the community. But there have been a few of those over the years. There was one around the... I forget what it was called... when people were giving away free themes and there would be spam embedded in it. Spam links and a bunch of nasty stuff. That actually seem to me, like that's so obviously bad for everyone involved. But there was quite a vocal group of people who defended that practice because they were making a lot of money off of it. ... It wasn't a business decision. It wasn't hurting our business or our bottom line [33:00] that that was happening. We just felt it was bad for the community. So we supported that. I would say some of the conflicts... I guess in a way we've been lucky that nobody else has ever tried to compete head on with There's sort of been a good understanding that if it's... we do Everybody else has found other things to work on. And we don't do... like we're not a theme shop. We don't make custom websites for people. We don't do web hosting. There's a bunch of things we made very clear from day one that we're not going to go into that business. You can have that. We're over here, this is what we're focused on. And I think that's really helped keep down the conflict. If somebody had decided to build head on competitor, then I'm sure they would have been much more vocal about our big role in and are we favoring ourselves, and all of those kinds of things.#

Interviewer: What do you think about the naming of That's something that comes up again and again in the community.#

Schneider: Yeah. It's such a mixed blessing. We kind of evaluate it every year. So initially, there was a ... and I think Matt even had a project going or intent, of actually creating a company called WordPress. There's was like WordPress, Inc. for like a moment...#

Interviewer: It was WordPress, Inc. There was a video when he announced it.#

Schneider: Yeah. And that was kind of a false start. And I think that was too far in the direction of the company also being called WordPress. The revision of that was saying no, no the company's called Automattic. WordPress is really the project, the open source project. And we're going to have this shared name,, And we sort of gave the company this advantage of being able to call it's service So it's been a curse and a blessing. So the curse is the confusion, which I'm sure everybody refers to right? You have to always explain the difference between the two. And to a lot of people, especially as we get more mainstream, they just don't care. We're like trying to explain it, and their like "yeah, yeah that's fine, but just gimme WordPress. I don't need to know all of this detail." But to us, it's really important to explain the difference because we were like paranoid over the years to always like not take credit for the .org stuff and say no, we're just .com. That's what we are as a business, so we wouldn't upset the open source community for sort of taking credit for all of WordPress. So we've sort of gone out of our way to explain the difference [36:00] and over the years it's become, from just a customer point of view, less and less relevant. They almost kind of wonder why are we like so obsessed with explaining it. Because to them it doesn't really matter that much. They just want the product. So that's been a challenge. But it's been a huge benefit because of the name recognition and that number we saw earlier, 30 percent of everyone has heard the name WordPress now, I mean that's amazing! How many brands are there that have that kind of recognition. That would have never happened. Ever. And really it's a ... as I said earlier, we've spent 10, 20 million whatever dollars in terms of just manpower, peoplepower, and we've sort of donated to as a company, it's probably been hundreds of millions in terms of marketing dollars. And it goes both ways too. I mean the two are intertwined. But there are fifty thousand people a day who hear about WordPress because of and some of them eventually get introduced to .org. So .com, there's a lot more people now who've heard about WordPress because of .com. So it has benefitted the overall movement and has fed customers into the WordPress ecosystem that wouldn't necessarily be there if we had called it So it has helped, it's just that the confusion between the two is just... it's an ongoing challenge and it kind of drives everybody crazy a little bit. But I don't know if we could have done it differently. I mean I almost... maybe, maybe if we had picked a name that was similar so that there was still some association like some BlogPress or something else, so that we could have said "powered by WordPress" or still explained it and made sure they feed into each other, but I'd say... overall, I think it's been a positive. It's had some challenges. And we think about it every year and sort of go, okay, does it still make sense. Maybe some day in the future we just go "Know what? Let's call it something else now. It's time to give it really it's own identity and name." But big enough now that people... we don't need that tie anymore, but ...#

Interviewer: Did you guys have a conversation when you were naming Like these could be the repercussions? Or did you just like, hey,, that's a great name? Let's just do that.#

Schneider: It was more of the latter. It was like of like, duh, of course we're going to call it... actually we didn't own We had a squatter on it, so we had to go and untangle all of that. Which was a little bit of a project. [39:00] And actually a lot of the first couple of years at Automattic, a lot of time we spent, I spent on the business side, was just helping put some of those things in place that just weren't thought about early on with WordPress. Like getting the trademark, and securing all the domains, and figuring out how can we make this a very open brand that lots of people can participate in but it doesn't just turn into some mess that doesn't mean anything in the marketplace because everybody just uses it in different ways. Sort of finding that balance. And having a company was very useful, because we could spend the money to acquire the domains and settle the legal disputes and get the trademark in place. And when all of that was figured out, that's when we gave it to the foundation. So it was definitely... to us it seemed obvious that it should be that naturally where people are going to go look for a more commercial service. But we did talk about it in the beginning. Like okay, what is... how do we keep these two things straight. And that's when we made a lot of the decisions around, okay .org will not be commercial, it won't... it will point people at hosts, but here's how we're going to send people back and forth and here's how we're going to explain it to the world. We probably underestimated the amount of confusion... just the challenge in communicating that.#

Interviewer: I did a survey for the Codex. And I had 1500 responses. And I would say at least 50 or 60 were password requests. That cracked me up.#

Schneider: And it's such a balancing act for us. Also, as a company, like we kind of wanna help make it easier for everyone. But we also don't want to step on any toes on the community side. So we could "take over" the support on and just fix that, just make it WordPress support. Like... you don't even... we just figure it out for you. Give us your URL and we'll tell you what you're on and we'll solve your problem for you. I think that would be so nice. Just one WordPress support. You don't have to figure out, oh what am I? Am I .com? .org? Who do I to talk to, is this... But then, all of a sudden its a company running support for an open source project, which is not a good idea. So we're always, trying to find that good middle ground. But over time, the goal was just to make it simple for people.#

Interviewer: So what have you done to make it simple?#

Schneider: Well, certainly, I think a lot of what investments we've made on the .org side [42:00] in terms of making plugins and themes easier, making auto upgrades work with web hosts and sort of teaching them how to do WordPress right, a lot of that we sort of do behind the scenes. The one-click install. The sort of just helping with the... some of the things we do on frankly, which just designed to make it easy. When you start a site on there's a bunch of stuff built in that is purely designed to just make your life easier. Like anti-spam and all those kinds of things, it just works, right? Backups, it just works. And all those things are built in, so what we've tried to do is make that available to the .org community, and even make it available to the hosts so they can pre-bundle, pre-install it so that your WordPress experience on some place like GoDaddy is as close to that experience of just in terms of oh, all the stuff's already figured out for me under the hood as possible. So we've sort of focused on that. Once you run the software, how can we just make that seamless for people. You still get all the control. You still get to run it and own it and look under the hood if you want and mess with it, but it feels as seamless as possible, as much as a modern software application...#


Schneider: ... I think the compromise that's worked was, what's included, but it's off by default. So it's bundled, but it can just sit there and not do anything. So it's not required to run WordPress. But most people use it, and need it. And we've kept it free. Or there's a free tier, all these years so that if you just use WordPress and need a spam solution we can run it for you. It is... that's worked as a balance. If somebody decided there's a better way of doing it or if we don't need that any more, we don't want to bundle it anymore then that would be fine too. It's not... Akismet is an interesting part of our business, but it's not our business. We make the vast majority of our money from and upgrades. It wouldn't be a huge setback if that went away. I don't even know how much of an impact it would have. For most people, it's just download the plugin and use it. Because you still need something for spam; it's still a problem. So I think it's worked. I've never heard any... [45:00] nobody has ever come to me from the WordPress community and said, hey, this stinks that this gets bundled, so...#

Interviewer: Oh, I see. I hear that some time. I think it's the commercials, because you could charge for it with the commercial side of things.#

Schneider: Yeah, we have made it more commercial over the years. We did about three years ago... it used to be basically, almost like the honor system, just use it for free, but if you're a business then you should pay us. And 99.9% of people didn't pay. And we had like huge companies using it for free with thousands of installs. And we kind of got to them and say, uh, you know, you're kind of using it... oh! Sorry. Yeah, we just kind of started using it with like a free personal key and then it just kind of got out of control. So we just tried to draw the line somewhere, and say, you know what, if you're like... I don't want to name any company... but a huge WordPress user out there making lots and lots of money off of their WordPress business, maybe you should be paying for this like crucial thing that actually helps you run your business.#

Interviewer: Yea. I guess a lot of server load, all that spam.#

Schneider: Yeah, and you know. Try turning it off, I mean it a... [inaudible] but anyway, I think it's been fine, but it's kind of a special case. Obviously we've not done that with anything else. We're not counting on that as a distribution channel for our business. For that we now have Jetpack, that's our commercial way of connecting with users. And if anything it, probably, for us, at some points it would make more sense to say, you know what, you need to use Jetpack to get Akismet. That would actually be the more commercial move on our part, is to say, no you can't bundle it any more. You need to install all of our stuff...#

Interviewer: That would not go down very well.#

Schneider: ... to get it. But that would be kind of like, well, if you don't want it in core, we'll put it in Jetpack, because for us, for a while we tried to like do all of these plugins on their own, like Akismet, and stats, and VaultPress, and all these different things, and we kept building stuff for and saying let's give it away to users, let's do a plugin. And we had like 30 plugins and nobody understood that they were coming from one company and how they were related to each other, so we started pulling that all back together into Jetpack and just saying, look, let's just install one thing then you can turn on all these features but instead of you install WordPress and the first thing you need to do is install 37 different plugins and each one is a little different, you have to learn about them, so... that's kind of the approach there.#

Interviewer: Yeah, [48:00] Jetpack causes a bit of controversy as well, so that's a...#

Schneider: Yeah, what do you hear about that from people?#

Interviewer: What do I hear? It's um... the problem is that when you install it, it has so much turned on, but it's kind of a little bit scattergun. And people get frustrated that they have to go in and manually turn off all the stuff that they don't want and then they'll turn on the maybe one or two things that they do want. So they said that it's bloated for that reason. I think that's the major issue. The big banner. Everyone hates the banner, and everyone hates, like, the screen where you turn everything on because it's not really consistent with the WordPress experience. I'd say those are the main things. People, some people say it causes bloat to your site, but if they're switched off, it doesn't really matter. I guess the issue is like, if you're just a... if you're not that technical, you would just install it and you wouldn't switch off all the thing that you don't want. You'd just assume that you need them all.#

Schneider: Which most people actually do. Well, I think the idea behind that is that is, if you make it opt-in instead of opt-out, nobody uses any of it. They just turn on stats or whatever they want, and they never even look at the rest. So it's kind of wasted. Whereas most of it is actually quite useful. But yeah, I totally... I hear that from people too.#

Interviewer: I've activated it twice and then I wanted to use it again because there's features that I really like. I like the stats. I like Photon. And the Gallery is pretty nice. Apart from that I don't really want any of the other stuff... after the deadline. But I got this activated and there's all this stuff, and I was like... I don't want and sit and click through all of these to turn them off. Even if there was a way you could checkbox them and quickly turn them off. So that... I got annoyed at stopped. I like the concept.#

Schneider: I hear that feedback too. I think it's valid feedback. I think it could be more seamless and just more like, this feels like...#

Interviewer: Is is WordPress?#

Schneider: ... yeah, and something more. There's something about it that seems a little bit like you're adding this thing you don't fully understand and it's gonna... blergh, it's all over the place. But that's fixable. That's the good news.#

Interviewer: Yeah, it's definitely interesting to see where it goes. So when you started at Automattic, do you remember what the first kind of big job you took on was? What your first task was?#

Schneider: That's a good question. I think... well, we had already launched, so I... Matt asked me to join... I'm going to say... I'm going to get the years wrong again probably. When Automattic was started in 2005, right?#

Interviewer: Yeah#

Schneider: It was like the fall of 2005... he asked me about it, [51:00] so I sort of agreed sometime around then. It took me a couple of months to get out of Yahoo, so I think during that time he launched Akismet and sort of private beta kind of versions. So I'd say one of the first tasks right away was how do we fully commercially launch those services. The first one was Akismet, actually. So the question was how do we put this out there. How are we going to charge for it. How are we going to price it. So one of the first things I worked out was that model of saying it's free for personal use. Here's how you get an API key. And then here's this sort of licensing model if you're a business or a company. Obviously, we were too nice about it. I mean people paid, but you know. We were being a little too subtle about it.#

Interviewer: That's a very open source model. It's like can we have a donation please.#

Schneider: It was a little bit in that direction. And that was fine. You know at the time we wanted to be very, very cautious. Because obviously, you know... you mentioned the Moveable Type licensing fiasco, we wanted to avoid that kind of moment, where there's ahhh, now there's a company, here's like a business guy, first thing he's going to go and like charge everybody. So we were very careful. Very kind of let's try this, okay maybe a little more. And then the second thing was same for, how are we going to charge for that. Where are we going to draw the line between free and paid services. What are the kinds of things we think down the road we will charge for, and what are the kinds of things we will definitely never charge for. And then launching the freemium model for it, which at the time was pretty cutting edge. The idea that instead of doing what everybody was doing at the time including TypePad and some of our main competitors, which was here, try it for free for 30 days and then if you like it, you pay, if not, it goes away. We said, no, no. It's going to be free forever. You can start for free and use it for free forever and here's a set of pro features and upgrades. So rolling that out and figuring out is that the right model or are we like shooting ourselves in the foot. I remember working on things like, can... we felt like we should charge for domains and domain mapping, because that's kind of an obvious... you have to charge for domains because they cost us money. Like the decision of should we charge for domain mapping because that was free on Blogger and still is. So that was something other competitors were giving away for free and we, in the beginning, said no, that's a paid feature. Because I felt at the time that, you know, if you're that serious about your site, like you have your own domain for it, you probably should be willing to spend a little bit of money. [54:00] Like at that point it's beyond I'm just playing around with it or it's just kind of a little free thing I'm doing on the side. So those are some of the early things I was working on and then hiring. How do we build the team? Some of the early hires that didn't work out, how do we, you know, let go of people, and do it in the nicest possible way. So that was probably the main... oh, and then... from the beginning, just investor relations and sort of telling the WordPress story to other companies in Silicon Valley as a whole, and introducing that hey, this is a serious platform now, and not just an open source project. And just finding people that wanted to be a part of it. Which, I think, a couple years into it, we then raised more money and, you know, we were approached by a number of people who wanted to buy us. I had to deal with that. A lot of my work was just how do we navigate that. Another early thing I worked on was the VIP stuff. Just the notion that we started to have WordPress sites out there that were kind of getting too big for kind of for just shared web hosts to handle. And, you know, Robert Scoble was one of the first ones with, and things like TechCrunch and others, GigaOm, they were just too big. And they were like who do we go to. Do we have to like go to Rackspace and become like an enterprise customer and spend hundreds or thousands of dollars a month to run WordPress. That seems crazy, going from $9.99 a month to $500 a month. And even then not really knowing how to do it. So I felt it was important that, aside from it being a business or not, that we would have that sort of... that we would take care of that for people. That we would make sure that there was never one of these prominent sites, that were our best marketing out there, that they would never fall over. Or that there would never be that moment where they go oh, I've outgrown WordPress and I need to move to a more serious platform. So I started spending a lot of time with, like CNN was another early one, Scoble, Om, say look, here's... how can we run WordPress for you, because we have We can run it scale, and we'll just sort of... in the beginning it was almost more of a marketing program. Just making sure that they were happy and taken care of. Figuring out what plugins they needed. Helping them with Akismet, and just... you know, [57:00] it's just a super high end WordPress support really and then that began to become an actual business. Because then we started having the CNNs of the world saying oh, we want that and we're happy to pay for it. I remember pricing that, the competitor at the time was TypePad... had something called TypePad enterprise or TypePad business class, or something like that. Which is like their version of TypePad for big businesses and I think they were charging like $50 a month for it. It was like the regular TypePad was maybe $10 and then this was like the premium version at $50. And I looked at that and went, like 50 bucks a month? That's not enough. Like, you know, this is CNN. C'mon! And so we charged $250 a month. Five times more than our competitor. And I remember people going what? That's crazy! That's so much money. And CNN was like, really? That's it? So we pretty quickly moved to $500 a month and nobody blinked. And now it's thousands a month, like $5000 a month to really get started, and even that is perfectly fine. These are businesses that are used to spending ten times that for just hosting for their sites. But that was a learning experience of saying, okay, how can you take something that's actually free, you can get it for free, and then we're running it on a service,, where you can also start for free and run a free site. But because we're running it in this different way for big businesses we're going to charge this huge amount. Because there's this perception that... there needs to be like a page, all those pages people have now where there's like the free tier and then the bronze tier, and then the silver tier and the gold tier, right? And people want some kind of symmetry. Like zero, $5, $20, $50... and you can't have zero, $5, $20, $5,000. It just doesn't... people just don't... understand how that's possible. So we felt that was the right approach. That's why we gave VIP sort of it's own site and it's own look and feel, because that's really for a totally different type of customer. But that was pretty early on as well. The first couple years, the first year of starting. So those were the kinds of things I was working on. And then just helping scale and hire and get the money flowing so we could keep paying for it.#

Interviewer: So when was the first investment? Was that around when you came on board?#

Schneider: So the first investment... yeah, it was in that same fall of 2005 when... I'm trying to remember. I probably committed to being CEO but hadn't started yet when we closed [60:00] that, I'm going to say November-December of that year and then I started in January. So there was a 1.1 million dollars...#

Interviewer: Do you think you being hired had an influence on the investment coming in?#

Schneider: Yeah, I assume so. There was definitely a sense of... the early investors, who were unfamiliar with open source as a business and certainly at the time, I think a 21-year old running a company. It's a little more common now, it's still not the most common thing. So I think the thought that I knew all of those early investors. I'd worked with them. A couple of them had been investors in OddPost. So there was a sense of well, if Tony sees something there, then there's probably something there. And my source up to me was nice... there was some money in place so it felt like we could go for a couple of years without having to worry about running out of money. And we obviously had a running start because WordPress was already an established, growing thing. So day one when we opened up, should look up the numbers, but I think we had thousands of signups a day, from the very beginning. So it was pretty nice, because most startups, they start when WordPress started, with nothing, right? And you have the first two years of like, ugh. Just building and putting it out there and trying to convince people and having that running start was huge.#

Interviewer: What about the second round of investment was how many years later?#

Schneider: I'm going to say it was '07 maybe? Summer of '07? Is that possible? I can look it up. That's possible.#

Interviewer: I can look it up.#

Schneider: It's '06 or '07. I'm going to say '07.#

Interviewer: So how have you managed your relationship with the community, because I don't see you getting involved with the Your kind of, obviously, on the Automattic side of things, but does your engagement with the community come via Matt? Or do you actually kind of actively keep on what's going on? Are you doing things in the background to support it without, kind of, obviously be doing them?#

Schneider: It's indirect, I would say. More through just making the decisions what to fund and prioritize at Automattic. So I keep a close eye on what happens in the community, and I talk to a number of businesses, other WordPress businesses. So the direct relationships I have are with [63:00] hosts, web hosts. So I spend some time, not a huge amount of time, with the GoDaddy's of the world. And then some of the theme shops. And places over the years... some of the WordPress businesses, like CrowdFavorite, guys like that. StudioPress when they first started. So to get a sense of what do they need out of this whole ecosystem, and how do we all work together as businesses and make sure that we do the right thing for the overall WordPress platform. The sort of, contributor level, I've never really been directly involved. And that's really by design. Because there's... we've drawn a line between Automattic and and I'm very careful not to get involved. Unless people ask, or I feel like I need to explain Automattic's role in something. I feel like it's hard enough for Matt to straddle the two sides. I think he does a great job at it, but it's hard to be on both sides. And I think it's helped him that I'm the business guy on the Automattic side. And it's... it's less relevant to that again, we've I think, Automattic now has a good reputation and a trust. But for the first few years, I think it was important to say this is an Automattic thing, and it's over here and it's totally separate from and that's what I'm working on. I occasionally overlap, but as little as possible. I think it is better, for me, not to be too active on both sides and cause confusion. And I think it's worked pretty well. I obviously need to understand what happens on to know, sort of make decisions on what do we invest in...#

Interviewer: To be actively involved with getting hosts to do the one-click installers...#

Schneider: Yeah, things like that. Exactly. Bundling Jetpack. The whole message of hire WordPress contributors, if you wanna... because hosts and other businesses... like they, a lot of people come to me to trying to figure out as a business how do I interact with So a lot of my job has been to explain, no you can't buy your way onto .org's plugin directory. That's always people's first things, so how much would it cost to have something bundled with WordPress. Actually, infinity. It's never going to happen. So explaining to people, other businesses, teaching them how to interact [66:00]. Like sponsors for WordCamps. For awhile like Microsoft wanted to really get closer to the WordPress community, and we're like whoa! That's a tough one, but here's how you would do it. You would go to events and actually have a presence and maybe sponsor some plugins that you'd like to see built. And just become part of the community and be a good, corporate member of that community just like we have as Automattic. So it's more those kinds of things. Helping... because you can't, a lot of open source projects basically just say no. If you're a company, you can not be part of this, right, because you're going to mess it up. Like we're totally non-commercial. And others get too commercial, they kind of ruin it. So my job has been to make sure we don't completely isolate ourselves from the rest of the world. Because WordPress can't succeed without businesses using it and supporting it and it can't be all volunteers... well it could be, but, you know. For it to be as big as it has become, you want The New York Times to use WordPress. You want CNN to use WordPress. You want Microsoft to support it. You want web hosts to support it. So making all that happen without it tainting or without those companies annoying the community, or overstepping. And it's happened a few times. But making sure they don't come in and cause trouble, or friction, and helping them. Saying if you do this, this, and this... oh, you want to do a WordPress plugin? Here's how you do it. Here's how you actually make it successful within the community and how you support it and how you can promote it without being lame about it. And then have it be a success for you instead of trying to do it a traditional kind of sales and marketing kind of way. And just having everybody throw up on it. And criticize you.#

Interviewer: I spend quite a lot of time talking with WordPress businesses about how they can contribute to WordPress, because sometimes they don't find it immediately obvious. Because things like trac can be a bit daunting to people.#

Schneider: Yeah, there's, you know, as a business, a lot of businesses struggle just to stay alive. The thought of spending part of their time volunteering for something or contributing is not at the top of their list. So helping them understand what's actually good for you and can lead to more business and it's good for the overall health of what you're doing is a good, it's an important part of the job I think. Because it's not obvious to people.#

Interviewer: Yeah, it's funny. I find that established WordPress businesses, ...anyways in the past few years as I've been speaking to a lot of people, they do want to contribute, but they're not quite sure how. [69:00] What's the best way to do it. So if I'm doing something documentation-related, I'll contact businesses and say you give me a person to work on this. And they like that kind of... someone actually getting in touch with them with a project to say yes or no.#

Schneider: Easy decision.#

Interviewer: They always say yes, I think. They never say no. Which is nice.#

Schneider: Yeah, and I find when you make it specific like that for people, it's better. Because a lot of time people are afraid to do the wrong thing too. They don't want to... especially now that WordPress is so huge, they don't want to be that lame company that comes in and does something overly commercial. I know at some of the early WordCamps people would get up and be a little too commercial in their pitches, basically pitch their business as a plugin or something. There was a pretty negative reaction to that.#

Interviewer: Yeah, we get pitches. We got a few for WordCamp Europe, pitches like that.#

Schneider: And some people are like wha? That's what we always do. That's just totally normal to them. It takes a while. To us, we're so used to it not being that way, but you have to... I totally get it, that some businesses, they just never even thought of it. They're like oh! But I think there's enough momentum now, there's enough people doing it, it's kind of the... now, people just follow the examples that have been set. I feel like a lot of my role has been to do like the first few of something. Like VIP is another good example. Like I sign up the first few VIPs, I kind of got the thing going, and then hired a replacement, and a team, to then take it forward. Because I felt like oh now it's... and sometimes I start stuff and it doesn't work and we don't do it, but sort of that, get the first few web hosts to behave properly and do the right thing. And then you can just point people at that example and start to make it bigger. And then [90:00] I can sort of move on to the next project.#

Interviewer: So what's your next project? Or is it top secret?#

Schneider: Actually, right now, I'm on sabbatical. Which part of it is an attempt to get a little distance and come back and look at everything we're doing to get better at prioritizing. Because there's a risk in every business, especially as you start making money and don't have to be so careful anymore, like watching every thing you work on, that you just start to do busy work. And your goal just becomes let's hire lots of people and like throw bodies at stuff we want to do. One of my goals has always been to avoid that trap as a business. To stay really, and you should... like my goal is, for everybody who works at Automattic, [72:00] like at the end of whatever, like at the end of every year, when you look back, to be able to say, oh, I worked on this, this, and this. And it actually had an impact. And it was clear like why were we doing it, and this was a good product, maybe it didn't work or not, but here's why we did it. Versus like what I've seen at bigger companies, where people just kind of like work on stuff and projects don't go anywhere and then they switch to something else and then they get reorganized and then this changes and then that. And very few people can actually even articulate, like what? What is it you've actually worked on that really has made a difference. So part of my taking time off is to get a little bit of distance so... because it's easier, I think, to come back in and say, oh, why are we doing that again? Versus whoa, this is really interesting and important. For example, I was listening to Bo's talk about o2 this morning... I don't know how much you follow the p2, o2, all of that stuff...#

Interviewer: I use p2 a lot. I have not used o2 yet. And I missed Bo's presentation.#

Schneider: So it's sort of o2, it looks very similar and works very similar to p2, it's just reworked all... everything underneath to actually make it something we could scale and let lots of people use. I think it's super interesting, super strategic, potentially very important for the company, and for WordPress as a whole, because it sort of makes it possible to have a WordPress site that's purely front-end driven. So you never have to go into wp-admin again. Not trying to build a different wp-admin, or simplifying it, or everything that people have worked on, but making it go away. Just everything happens right on the site. I think that could be huge, right? So having Bo and his team work on that is... and I thought it was important when we decided to put a team on it. Now even with a little bit of distance and hearing him talk about it and thinking about it, it's huge. I think it's huge. That should be a huge priority. For something that we got to make sure we do that right. And we get it out there. I think it could be something that in a couple of years, we could look back on and say way, that really has changed everything. So I just feel like you get a little more clarity if you step away and you come back. It's like, to me... I'm like a to-do list person. I like making them. And I like putting them aside for a while and looking at it again. And every time, like half of the stuff, I look at it and go, why did you even write that down? That's just... that's not even important any more. But just by letting it sit for a while and not doing it, but then looking at it... oh yeah, I thought that was so important. Actually, it isn't. And I feel like [75:00]it's a constant challenge for any project I think you work on, is to just not work on the stuff that shouldn't be on the list. Because you think in the moment, you think I'm so excited about this thing right now, we gotta work on this, we gotta do it, and sometimes it turns out is a complete waste of time and as a CEO of a company, a big part of your job is making sure you don't waste any time. Like you actually ask people to work on things that are going to turn into something. You can't always predict it obviously. I feel like I can still get better at making sure that we work on important things, we don't ever do any busy work. Like we don't ever do any re-orgs or shut down big projects, or just have to tell people... you know what? That thing you just worked on for six months, actually wasn't that important.#

Interviewer: Has that ever happened that you've worked on a big project and it just hasn't worked out? And just been like, oh, that was a bad idea?#

Schneider: I actually think we've been good at avoiding total wastes of time. There's definitely been projects that didn't get as big as we thought. Things like... things we still run, like IntenseDebate, for example comes up a lot. That you know, we thought were going to be bigger. I don't think it was a waste of time, it wasn't... I don't feel we had people work on that and then just threw it away or something. But it definitely didn't get... it didn't have the impact we thought it would. And part of that is because we had to spend more time than we thought kind of rebuilding it after we acquired it, so it was just a lot of work to kind of get it to scale. And by the time we did that, it was sort of [96:00] the rest of the world had sort of moved on a little bit. And also the way those commenting systems have evolved, it was different than what we anticipated. Where I feel like... we thought there would be more of them so... the fact that there's things like Facebook comments now and Disqus and stuff like that wasn't a surprise, but probably the bigger surprise has been how much of the conversation has been fragmented all over the place. Like we thought that we're going to kind of be able to bring all that stuff into one place, or at least more of it, and what's happened actually is the opposite. It's actually got more fragmented. And it's gone into places that aren't even commenting platforms like, a place like Twitter. Where a lot of the chatter about something happens there now. Not on the post or within the commenting system. And that we just didn't anticipate. That was just a totally [78:00] unexpected side effect of the rise of something like Twitter. And it's fine. It's still... people love it. And all the things that are good about comments are still good, they just happen in a place like Twitter. So that's probably an example where like, oh, okay, we...#

Interviewer: So how do you address that challenge of the conversation going elsewhere?#

Schneider: You embrace it. You basically just let people connect their sites and their WordPress' into all those systems and say it's fine. As a writer and as a publisher, you just got to make sure you own your comment. The only thing that's important is what you create with WordPress. WordPress is just a tool. It's a typewriter. It a really good typewriter. But it doesn't do anything unless you create content with it. You got to make sure that content is yours and is part of your software and you control it. The commentary around it, how it gets spread around, how eventually people hear about you, that changes. That's changed a lot from the early days of WordPress when it was all about SEO and getting people to your site to now being mostly about social and increasingly mobile and getting subscribers and followers instead of just people coming to your site or RSS subscribers. So all of that changes and our job is to just make sure we continue to make it easy for people to plug in to all of those channels. Because as a writer, you don't... you still have to worry about finding readers and an audience, but at least we give you the tools to reach into Twitter, into Facebook, into what ever the next thing is, Instagram, whatever. Being relevant enough as a platform, all those other systems want to interact with WordPress that's, I think, how we deal with the fragmentation. We just embrace it, and say, look, this is what people want and if anything we were... we were... not very smart to think that with everything we've seen around WordPress was all about being distributed and everybody can run their own site. And we thought comments were going to be different some how. They were all going to happen in one place. I just think that's what people want. I mean that's the whole point of WordPress. You can run it yourself. You can plug it into anything. You can have that flexibility. Hopefully in ten years, WordPress is still around and doing it's thing and everything else around it has evolved and changed and we've just plugged into those. I think... I don't think... [81:00] People think that fragmentation's a problem. I don't think it is. I don't it's... it doesn't need to be fixed. Because people don't want it ultimately to be fixed. Like everybody always wants like the unified inbox or the... let's make it all simpler and in one place. When people build it, nobody uses it. Because by the time it comes out there's already some new thing that isn't part of your unified inbox or unified whatever. What people really want is like the latest cool thing that like... oh my god, everybody's using this new app to chat or whatever or to talk about stuff. Let's go there. Versus constantly trying to pull it back into one place. So I think you embrace it. I don't think it's a big challenge for WordPress. I think that's a pretty solved problem at this point. I think the bigger challenge going forward is ... this. And Matt was very deliberate in talking about the survey results and look how many people are using these new devices now. That's not figured out yet.#

Interviewer: Yeah, it's not a great experience on the phone.#

Schneider: No. And it's another one of those, you know, you have to figure it out. And it's going to be fragmented too. It isn't going to be... certainly not all web anymore, but it's also not going to be all tablet or all smartphone. It's going to be everything. And you just have to figure out how to bring it all together and make it work for people. And we're not there yet across devices.#

Interviewer: No. They're all just delivery mechanisms for the net.#

Schneider: Yeah. The thing is, nobody else is there either. The only ones that work well are the ones that are just single device focus, like we only work on the iPhone. Ok, that's great, but... ultimately that's not going to work for WordPress. It's just another evolution. I think the coolest thing about WordPress is just how it's adapted itself through all of this. And when you see something like this conference, it's like, there's so many people and just everybody working together on this. The key is to keep that going and actually the things that Matt mentioned around how core releases are going to work. That's super important. Because it doesn't matter what we work on, or what the next set of features are, because they're always going to change. But having a group of people in an organization that can, that people want to do it, and they're excited about it and working well together and solving these problems. That's the challenge over time. [84:00]Because that's how both open source project companies go away. People just stop working together. They start fighting. Or somebody starts dominating it. And it just kind of after a while, people just kind of drift away and go work on something else that's more fun.#

Interviewer: Which I guess happened with Habari. Do you remember that?#

Schneider: Yeah, I remember that. I hadn't heard anything about them. Are they...#

Interviewer: They're still going. Just not... no one really uses it. But they're happy with it. They like it. I spoke to a few of the original developers of it and I guess they just wanted to be doing their own thing. There was no animosity actually. They were just... they were pleased with how well WordPress had done.#

Schneider: Yeah, WordPress has, and this is really all to Matt's credit, that navigating all of that. He's done a really good job of... you know, he's... sort of having a firm grip on where things are headed. But also having it very open and lots of people able to come in and contribute and work on it. Because you have to maintain that balance of... if you're too open, or too just letting anybody do whatever they want... there's a lot of open source projects that just die from kibitzing and everybody just disagrees and nobody... you know, everybody has their little thing that they're most passionate about. And you end up just arguing. And others are just too top-down, here's what it's going to be all about. Finding that balance is hard. You know WordPress has had a few people over the years who leave and do other things. But like you said, like, nobody's ever said WordPress is terrible, we're going to fork it. And we're going to do a better WordPress, like what happened with Joomla.#

Interviewer: Ghost?#

Schneider: Ghost... let's see...#

Interviewer: That's not forked. But his design intention is to do blogging better.#

Schneider: I'm a little surprised. What's his name?#

Interviewer: John O'Nolan#

Schneider: Some of the stuff I've seen written about him felt a little anti-WordPress?#

Interviewer: Well he was involved with WordPress, and I think fell out with... he's a strong personality.#

Schneider: Yeah, I've seen some stuff. Didn't he have some pretty nasty Twitter interactions with people?#

Interviewer: Yes. He has.#

Schneider: About some... Yeah. I don't know him. My perception of it is... I've seen this a few times around the design side of WordPress... there were a few attempts at, sort of redesigning it or changing that direction, that have left and people just not agreeing, or it not happening, and sort of splitting off and trying to do their own thing. And I feel like, when it comes [87:00] to design and kind of look and feel, it's so subjective and people get really passionate about it and it's really hard to say no to those things without people getting upset. And I feel like maybe... that would be my guess, that there's more of that. And also, it's like the opposite of Habari. Habari was like from like the code level, like we... like everything under the hood needs to be better or whatever, newer. Ghost is like the opposite. It's like from the user design experience level. Like we want it to look like this. But it's just a set of screenshots.#

Interviewer: I know.#

Schneider: It's like... I feel like maybe they'll build it someday. But it's not that hard to design a screenshot that gets people really excited, especially if you're a good designer, but you know, it's the details of actually making that work that's really, really hard. But it doesn't feel like a fork to me. It doesn't feel like somebody going we're going to rebuild this in a totally different way, and it's us or them. Like you're going to have to pick. I think Joomla had that.#

Interviewer: Mambo.#

Schneider: So you remember that, huh? But that was huge, right? That was huge. That was a complete split down the middle of that community. That's what you want to avoid, right? That's the sort of fear in an open source project is how easily that can happen. You can't do that to a company. I mean sometimes it happens in companies where a whole group of people just ups and leaves and starts a competitor, but it's hard to. It's very rare. But an open source project it's...#

Interviewer: It's easy.#

Schneider: It's easier. I think it's a testament to Matt's leadership of that that hasn't happened despite some really hard decisions over the years. Where people were really upset. Like the theme stuff we talked about. It definitely caused a lot of discussion and uproar.#

Interviewer: Has he... has his kind of approach to leadership changed over the years? Have you seen him improve? Have you seen any issues in the past that just aren't there any more?#

Schneider: Uh, yeah. And I hope I've improved too. Matt's always been a great leader. Obviously that's why he's able to get WordPress off the ground. He's very good at bringing together people, motivating them, figuring out ways for them to work together. And provide leadership. He's... [90:00] I think he has the... he's very even. He's very... and I think that's a huge. It's a leadership quality I really like the sort of never... providing that sort of compass. The sticking to a plan. Being able to figure out how it's, and articulate, how it's going to play itself out and not getting freaked out one direction or the other like super positive or super negative as stuff happens along the way. Things will go wrong along the way. I think Matt's been really good at sort of not freaking out. Just kind of calming... being that sort of calming, guiding force behind the project. That's how I've tried to run Automattic as well. Just be like ... I feel like as a leader, whatever your reaction is to something, it sort of get multiplied and amplified by the people around you. So if you get super excited about something, everybody wants to work on that project all of a sudden. If you get worried about something, everybody's like oh my god, we're screwed. So you have to be just... I feel that's something Matt's always had, but I think he's gotten really good at channeling it. And really realizing the power of that. I think things he has improved is... just being able to let go of more things. I think he would agree that he's somewhat of a control freak. In a good way. Like he's a super, detail-oriented... he cares deeply about every aspect of everything WordPress. And he stays on top of it. He's really involved with it. As it gets bigger, you know, I think he's gotten better at just delegating some things. Letting go. Anointing sort of leaders and lieutenants, or whatever you want to call it, within the community to just have some of those things grow on their own. And I think he's... I've definitely seem him work on that and get better at it. I think another area where he's improved this is communication. He's always been a good communicator when he chooses to communicate. But he's also, especially in the beginning, he's very... how would I describe it... sort of, minimal communicator. And he still is in a lot of ways. Which makes him very efficient. But I think he's learnt more about sometimes you have to go out of your way to explain and really over communicate something to make sure everybody's on board and agrees. Both within the company or with partners or within the community when an issue arises. [93:00]I think he has a tendency to go "just don't bug me. Like here's the right answer. Just deal with it." And it usually is the right answer, but it just, a little more explaining and just getting people to get on board with that. I think he's gotten really good at. In any of that, he's an amazingly talented guy and has been from the beginning of this project. And the decisions he's made for WordPress, especially the ones that are counterintuitive or not obvious, they've worked out really well. I think more and more people have come around to, wow, this guy really knows what he's doing.#

Interviewer: Do you think it would have been as successful without Matt?#

Schneider: WordPress?#

Interviewer: Yeah.#

Schneider: No. No. No, because there were other blogging platforms around at the time. And WordPress made some smart technology decisions in the beginning that have definitely have helped, but frankly those were nothing, they were made by b2. MySQL, PHP, now those were the right decisions... they were not obvious at the time. Aside from all the other issues around MoveableType, one of the huge problems with it is just they embraced the wrong technologies. And when five years later all of a sudden 90% of the web developers use PHP, and if you've picked something else, you're kind of screwed. You can't switch. I don't know how much of that was... I think that was...#

Interviewer: That was Michel's decision.#

Schneider: Yeah. And then Mike and Matt sort of embracing that platform and deciding hey that's a great platform, let's take it forward. But that really, really helped. And helped it succeed versus other platforms that made different decisions. But the rest of it is a million small decisions along the way of how promote it, who to involve, how to communicate it - Matt's been amazing at it. It certainly... who know... something else would have emerged, I mean there was a need for a platform like this, but... it's hard to predict what would have happened, but he's definitely been the key influence on that, on that project, and continues to be, luckily. He still is excited about it as he was day one. Which is also not... you shouldn't take that for granted.#

Interviewer: Ten years is a long time. It's longer, I guess, really.#

Schneider: Especially in this business. You know, like people move on. Some people just stay completely focused and that's all they ever want to work on is this one thing. But a lot of people after a few years are like, huh, I want to try something else. [96:00] It's not... there's that initial, oh my god this is working, it's growing, everybody wants to be part of it, it's exciting. And then it kind of settles up after a while, right? It's not the cool new thing any more. Then something else comes along. And all of a sudden they get all of the attention. And it's hard to keep going at that point. It's like, but, but, ...#

Interviewer: Yeah, WordPress certainly isn't the cool new thing anymore.#

Schneider: No, but it's really found a way to continue to grow and attract people and feel very young and fresh. So that's key. That's a lot of what, at this stage, it's important to keep that freshness. Because, yeah, that's another thing with software, after a while when it gets popular and big it gets bloated and uninteresting. People always want something new and quick...#

Interviewer: The other thing, people say things like Google is evil now and Facebook is evil, but WordPress has never become evil.#

Schneider: Yeah. I feel like I agree with these other guys becoming evil. I feel like...#

Interviewer: Even if they're not, that's not how portrayed.#

Schneider: But kind of... it feels like it goes in waves for those guys. Like Google is evil for awhile and then all of a sudden they're like... because they're less evil than Facebook now. And all of a sudden everybody's on their bandwagon again. And then they become evil again. So it swings. And WordPress has avoided that. Like WordPress is a very positive brand in a lot of way. And, yeah, something like Facebook isn't. I would say, if you would just, in terms of brand perception, so there's how many people have heard of you and what's their impression, and they do those brand studies of who's the most loved brands... Google's usually pretty high. Apple's pretty high, which is interesting because they do a lot of evil things in my opinion. Facebook is way at the bottom as the most disliked brands, even though everybody in the world knows it and uses it. My guess is... I don't think anybody's ever done that kind of study on WordPress. My guess would be that's it's ridiculously well liked from a brand perspective. And, yeah, a lot goes into that over the years and it's always kind of the... it's obviously having the right vision and idea, but then it's all the little decisions along the way that just reaffirm, reinforce a certain brand perception. Facebook has just stumbled so many times. It's like oh my god again? It just becomes the story. Google's kind of in the middle. I feel like they've... I think they're mostly good actually. [99:00] And sometimes they go a little evil and then they rediscover their... I don't know. I think most tech companies are actually good, compared to the rest of the world and what other companies do. Even like a company like Microsoft that everybody's like "evil empire" I think Microsoft's actually a pretty great company. They've done a lot of really great things. And if you think about the platform they've built with Windows and how many other businesses have been built on that, it's amazing. And how much... they brought that technology to so many people. That's a positive thing, compared to... can name many, many, almost any other company who just, they're either only in it for the money or actively doing awful things to people or the environment or something else. So I think tech is pretty, has a pretty good track record.#


Interviewer: So have you guys put a lot of work into the branding perception? Has it kind of come from the open source project? Or has it come from the .com?#

Schneider: We put a lot of work into it. But not in a traditional branding way. That's actually... you asked, sort of, what were the early projects I worked on right away and a big early focus of mine was how do we take this WordPress brand, how do we communicate this open source versus commercial thing and then how do we build a really amazing brand, given that we are an open source brand. So not coming in and saying well here's the playbook of how branding is done typically for software companies, which would have been to take control of the brand and make sure it works a certain way, and communicate in a certain way and do advertising and marketing and conferences and all those kind of things. We didn't want any of that because we knew it wouldn't work within the user base that we have, but we... we instead decided is we said well, how do we make sure that the brand is clear to people. Like how do we communicate what WordPress is about and then open it up to the community to be our brand ambassadors and spread the word. But spread the word in a way that accumulates to a great brand. So you need to find a way for people to make sense... so when you hear about WordPress from twenty different places before you kind of get what it is, those twenty different places more or less say the same thing. So communicating what it is and what it isn't and what [102:00] the overall vision and mission is. And this democratization of publishing, making that sort of the mission statement. And then talking about how does each person who communicates it actually... what part in that do they play and how do they talk about WordPress. And then letting them do it without us being some kind of bottleneck where you have to get approval or all those kinds of things... is the way we decided to do it. ... So WordCamps are a big part of that. Making sure that WordCamps are... we don't come in with a kind of heavy hand of here's how you run a WordCamp event. Like the whole point is there's a lot of flexibility. It should be different for each community. You should have a lot of control over that. But here's some guidelines you have to follow. Here's how you have to present the brand and you're involvement with it. And you can't do certain things. You can't make it commercial. You can't have certain types of sponsors and make it... you know about that. It just helps to create the same kind of, almost like the atmosphere, the vibe around the brand that I think has worked really well. And just telling people, just go out there and tell your friends about it. And get somebody started in WordPress. That's the key thing. That's how people end up getting the excitement of it, right? If you see somebody actually using it and setting it up for you. I heard a few years ago, this is like six or seven years ago, I remember a friend of mine volunteered for the Obama campaign and it made such an impression on me. Because first of all, he's like an older guy and he's done like, he's kind of a wealthy guy... he decided he'd get on a plane, get his assignment, he ended up somewhere in the midwest and like staying with some family and going out and walking the streets, and he's like... he had a great experience. He said the most amazing thing to him was when he got there, being kind of a traditional guy, he expected like to get some kind of training or some kind of talking points or here's like, knock on the doors and here's like the... what you tell people. And he said he got none of that. He just got there, and he asked, like what am I supposed to tell people? And they said, well, just tell people why you like Obama. That's it. Just tell them your story and why you're passionate about it. And it was such a like light bulb, like a political campaign where they try to control every talking point. Because there's nothing like that personal story, personal passion. That's exciting. That people want to be a part of. So that's we've tried with WordPress, is to say here's the framework, like what it's about, but ultimately it's just a tool and a platform. What you do with it is important. Talk about that. And tell people about that. Because that's what's going to get people excited. And that's worked really well. It's an unusual approach to branding. Because, yeah, usually it's... usually it's like, you don't even get to talk about my brand. It's all me completely, and everything has to be exactly the way our [105:00] guidelines prescribe it. And then even when people have the more distributed model, it's usually very much here's how you... take our training and here's how you're going to present yourself. And we want everyone of you to say the same thing and look the same way. We didn't want to do that obviously. We can't really with an open source community anyway. But still have enough consistency...#

Interviewer: I guess this is where the five-minute install came in. Once you can do that the first time, it's really exciting and then you tell someone else, like wow! I made a website! I'm on the internet. And it's not GeoCities.#

Schneider: Yup. And leading by example too. Just going around and talking about what people have built with WordPress. Not always talking about ourselves. Here's the next set of... we never went out and said look at these cool features that are coming. Never. It was always about look at the cool stuff people have built. Like building a showcase, things like that. ... That's what's important. What people do with it. Not... the next feature set is important to the developers who work on it and you want to be smart about what you build next but it's, that's not what get's people excited. Nobody runs around and goes oh you should use WordPress because it has this really cool new commenting, post format, whatever. People don't even know what that is. So that was sort of the thinking behind it and I think why it's worked. And why it's so positive. Because it's personal. It's like people... people just have this personal... yeah, I get it all the time now. You meet somebody and asked what you work on. And nobody's heard of Automattic, but you mention WordPress and "WordPress! Oh! My brother-in-law's band uses WordPress! Love it!" There's always some like personal thing. So it's just a smile on their face versus oh, just another software geek. Talking about blah, blah technology blah, blah.#

Interviewer: Well I think I'm going to let you go there, because we've been going for a while. But thank you very much for speaking to me.#

Schneider: Sure.#

Interviewer: We probably could have talked for like ages, but...#